COLUMBUS, Ohio — It might not have seemed so based on its 78-73 first-round NCAA women's tournament win over Central Michigan on Saturday, but Oklahoma has talked with regularity about the value of offensive rebounding since the end of the regular season.
The Sooners need only to look back to an early season home loss for another illustration of that fact as they head into a second-round game against UCLA at 6:15 p.m. Monday in St. John Arena.
On Nov. 14, then No. 11-ranked Oklahoma came down with just six offensive rebounds in an 86-80 loss to unranked UCLA.
The third-seeded Bruins, who have 6-foot-1 Markel Walker at one guard spot and three others in their lineup who are at least 5-11, will present some of the same matchup issues that hindered the sixth-seeded Sooners in the earlier matchup.
“We've had two weeks to work on (offensive rebounding) and we've talked about it,” coach Sherri Coale said. “We've been on it since the first time we played UCLA back in November.”
Oklahoma (23-10) was out-rebounded on the offensive end 23-11 by Central Michigan, but Joanna McFarland scored 18 points and came away with 13 defensive rebounds as she finished with a career-high 17 rebounds to compensate.
Although the Chippewas took 84 shots, they made just 26.
In the earlier matchup with UCLA (26-7), the Bruins shot 44 percent from the floor and missed 14 free throws but took 15 more shots than the Sooners.
“You can't give up 23 offensive boards,” Coale said. “We have to shoot a little better. We'll maybe have better luck shooting it better than with the rebounding thing.
“What concerns me is why we don't block people out. You can't just stand in front of them. You need to push them back. We need to do a better job of that.”
In addition to the rebounding and size advantage UCLA has entering the rematch, the Bruins believe the balance they display on offense makes them difficult to defend.
Forward Atonye Nyingifa, who had 10 points and eight rebounds in the Bruins' 66-49 win over Stetson in its first-round tournament game Saturday, is one of six players who average between seven and 12 points per game.
Thea Lemberger had 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, Walker had 16 points and 6-3 forward Alyssia Brewer, a Sapulpa native, added 15 points and 16 rebounds in UCLA's earlier win over the Sooners.
“I think it's great that we have so many players who can get a double-double,” Nyingifa said. “It shows the versatility of our team. You have to focus on all five players on the court at the same time. We're going to crash the boards. If a team tries to box us out, we'll definitely crash the boards harder.
“It was a great win early in the season, but as coach says, they're a new team and we're a new team playing with new intensity and new energy.”
The fact that the Sooners will have a different look than in the first matchup is undeniable.
Oklahoma got 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting and six rebounds in 38 minutes against UCLA from senior guard Whitney Hand, but a torn ACL ended her career in December.
Another factor that should dictate a different feel during the rematch is the improved play of McFarland.
The 6-3 senior had no points and just three rebounds in 17 minutes in the earlier matchup.
And she's “very motivated right now.”
“I don't want to lose,” McFarland said. “Every game could be my last game as a college athlete and I'm very emotional about that. I want to keep going and go home to Oklahoma City and win.”